Area bad guys, be forewarned. The fifth and sixth graders at the John F. Ryan School are not to be messed with.
Under the direction of Safety Officer Jennie Welch, School Resource Officer Kathy MacLeod and Domestic Violence Officer Kim Riccardi, the police department will be teaching 25 Ryan School students how to react in dangerous or inappropriate situations.
"It's an empowerment program," explained Welch. "We want kids to have the confidence that if they're ever in a dangerous situation, they know how to get themselves out of it, and not depend on a grown-up."
The program is a dramatic departure from the past "stranger danger" lessons, which emphasized avoiding contact with unknown persons.
"We've stopped teaching the "stranger danger" because unfortunately it's not only the stranger who can pose a threat," Welch said. "We want them to know what to do in all situations."
radKIDS teaches three basic principles to the youngsters:
- No one has the right to hurt me
- I don't have the right to hurt anyone else
- It's not my fault, so it's OK to tell an adult
The program has been in existence since 2001. It's executive director is Steven Daly of Dennis, Massachusetts, who is a former police officer turned victims advocate.
"The radKIDS attitude is that they don't get scared, they respond, which gives them a much better chance of survival," Daly said. "We know that 83% of the time, if a child yells, runs or resists physically, they escape."
In Tewksbury, the Ryan School students will participate in a series of four, two-hour training sessions after school on Thursdays. The inaugural class of 25 filled up quickly when it was offered at the school, and there is already a waiting list to get into the next class, which should begin in April, Welch said.
The fifth and sixth graders will learn a variety of skills ranging from how to call 911 in an emergency, to how to physically ward off an attacker.
"It's not just a lecture, it's a good mix of instruction and activities, with a lot of role playing," Welch said. "We're teaching them to yell loud, hit hard and run fast."
The students will learn a variety of defensive techniques, including how to block a blow from an attacker, and how to break out of an attacker's hold."We're teaching them techniques like hammer fists, peppering the eyes and scraping the shin as escape tactics," Welch said.
At the culmination of the program, the students will perform a demonstration in front of their parents, exhibiting escape tactics against a padded, acting attacker.
The program is being run with little or no additional funding from the town, as Welch, McLeod and Riccardi were able to borrow much of the needed equipment from other police departments. The Tewksbury School Department provided the space at the Ryan School.
Tewksbury Chief of Police Timothy Sheehan has been the main proponent behind bringing the program to town.
"The Chief is really pushing for this to be a success," Welch said. "Eventually, we'd like to see it become part of the school curriculum."